If you’re looking to stock up on this famous immune system support nutrient, you don’t have to look much further than fruits and vegetables. Vitamin C (aka ascorbic acid) is an essential nutrient and a powerful antioxidant that helps neutralize free radicals in the body. It also plays an integral role in collagen synthesis, which helps support healthy skin. Making it one seriously desirable vitamin, and a great option to add to your personalized vitamins routine. †
And yet, 46% of adults over age 19 in the US have a vitamin C nutrient gap.1 That’s nearly half of all adults who aren’t getting enough of this vital vitamin from their diets alone. If we really want to reap the benefits of this powerful antioxidant, let’s start by looking at how much we need, and then which vitamin C foods can help us ensure we’re getting enough of this critical nutrient into our diets. Also, check out our vitamin quiz to see if you have any nutrient gaps.
How Much Vitamin C Do We Need?
If you’re looking for foods high in vitamin C, a good place to start is by knowing how much of this nutrient you need. There are two main things to look for here, the bare minimum or “baseline” requirements and the optimal requirements.
The baseline requirement of a nutrient is known as its RDA (recommended dietary allowance) and that provides you with the amount you need per day to prevent deficiency and meet baseline needs. The optimal requirements of a nutrient are recommended to achieve ideal vitamin C antioxidant status in the body. Optimal levels of vitamin C are recommended because each day, we encounter “oxidative stressors” things such as pollution, cigarette smoke, and physical stress. These stressors increase our need for antioxidants like vitamin C to help neutralize the free radicals produced by them.2
Here’s a quick breakdown of baseline or “minimum” vitamin C needs:3
Men 19 years and over should consume 90 mg/day of vitamin C
Women 19 years and over should consume 75 mg/day of vitamin C
Smokers (men) 19 years and over should consume 125 mg/day of vitamin C
Smokers (women) 19 years and over should consume 120 mg/day of vitamin C
Pregnant women 19 years and older should consume 85 mg/day of vitamin C
Breastfeeding women 19 years and older should consume 120 mg/day of vitamin C
Here are the optimal vitamin C needs:2
Women and men 19 years and over should consume 200–400 mg/day of vitamin C
Women and men 51 years and over should consume 400 mg/day of vitamin C
Roughly 2.5 cups (five servings) of a variety of fruits and vegetables should average out to about 150–200 mg of vitamin C.2 Approximately 2.5–5 cups (5–10 servings) of a variety of fruits and vegetables per day five to ten servings a day (2.5–5 cups) will provide 200–400 mg of vitamin C.
Vitamin C Foods: Fruits
If you’re looking for food sources high in vitamin C, fruits can be a delicious way to start. The exact quantities of vitamin C contained in these foods will vary depending on the size of the fruit and a host of other factors, but generally speaking:4
1 cup of orange juice provides 379 mg of vitamin C
6 oz of grapefruit juice provides 248 mg of vitamin C
1 cup tomato juice, canned provides 170 mg of vitamin C
1 cup papaya provides 88 mg of vitamin C
1 cup of California orange provides 87 mg of vitamin C
1 cup of passionfruit provides 70 mg of vitamin C
1 cup of mango provides 60 mg of vitamin C
Vitamin C Foods: Vegetables
Look to a leafy green and vegetables for even more foods high in vitamin C.4
1 cup of broccoli provides 88 mg of vitamin C
1 cup of brussels sprouts provides 74 mg of vitamin C
1 cup of soybeans provides 74 mg of vitamin C
1 cup of kidney beans provides 71 mg of vitamin C
1 cup of green peas provides 58 mg of vitamin C
1 cup of cauliflower provides 56 mg of vitamin C
1 cup of plantains provides 49 mg of vitamin C
1 cup of asparagus provides 43 mg of vitamin C
Vitamin C Rich Foods Have Other Benefits, Too
These sources of vitamin C have a lot more to offer than just this one nutrient. Fruits and vegetables are also rich in other antioxidants which help neutralize free radicals in the body and offer a range of vitamins and minerals.5 Many of them contain phytochemicals as well, which are important to support overall health.5 Not to mention the delicious dietary fiber found in many vegetables that also contain vitamin C.
A Vitamin C Supplement Can Help, Too
Fruits and vegetables are the ideal way to meet your vitamin C needs, but research shows adults are not consuming the daily recommended servings per day.6 In fact, almost half of the population falls short of meeting even their baseline vitamin C needs.1 While you work on increasing your fruit and vegetable intake to better meet your vitamin C needs, a vitamin C supplement can help fill any gaps and ensure you’re getting the amount of this critical nutrient you need—every day.
Keep Seeking More Sources Of Vitamin C
When it comes to vitamin C intake, you want to make sure you are maintaining healthy vitamin C levels with the support of nutrient-filled foods and dietary supplements. Vitamin C is an essential nutrient and powerful antioxidant that too many of us are missing out on from our diets alone. How much vitamin C you need varies depending on your gender, life stage, and environmental stressors, so be sure to get the optimal amounts specific to your needs. No matter how much of this essential vitamin you need, the benefits of vitamin C are clear to see. Thankfully, there are lots of answers to the question “what foods have vitamin C.”
This nutrient can be found in many a citrus fruit or tropical fruit such as oranges, lemons, grapefruits, guava, papaya, kiwi fruit, and limes. Fresh fruit is not the only vitamin C rich food, many vegetables are filled with vitamin C content as well such as broccoli, kale, brussels sprout, red bell pepper, and green bell pepper.
Adding more fruit and vegetable foods high in vitamin C to your healthy diet can only help, as many of these foods also provide a range of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and even fiber. Find your favorite snacks, then sit back and enjoy all the delicious foods high in vitamin C for your immune system support and more.
† These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine. Vitamin C. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Selenium, and Carotenoids. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press; 2000:95-185 https://www.nap.edu/read/9810/chapter/7
Corrie became a nutritional nerd the second she learned about trans fats in college. Ever since then, she’s been trying to figure out easy life hacks for staying healthy without making her entire world about workouts and kale. She’s dedicated the last few years of her career to writing fun, educational content to help make good nutrition a little less boring and a little more accessible to non-scientists like herself. When she’s not scrolling through new research on gut health, you can find her playing Magic the Gathering or tending to her many (somehow still living) plants.
Carroll is a nutrition scientist and communicator with over 25 years of experience as a clinician, researcher, and educator at major universities, medical centers, and nutrition industry settings. She is a passionate advocate of nutritional health and established the nutrition education and science platforms at Pharmavite. Carroll is an expert in personalized nutrition and has published several scientific papers on vitamin and mineral inadequacies and the impact on health and wellbeing. Prior to joining Pharmavite, Carroll taught nutrition at UCLA Medical School and Santa Monica College and was a chief clinical dietitian and researcher.